The Yellow Springs Community Foundation Story
“The Yellow Springs Community Foundation was a vision that Edwin Foos had sparked in Jim Mitchell and people wanted to carry on.”—Perry Stewart
The Yellow Springs Community Foundation was chartered on April 26, 1974. But the idea came much earlier. In 1968, Edwin K. Foos, of the Kelly-Springfield family, died. Eddie, as he was known to all, had never married, and felt strongly about giving money back to Yellow Springs. He chose four Yellow Springs organizations: the Lions Club, of which he was a member, for scholarships for local high school graduates; Antioch College, which he had attended, for scholarships; the Presbyterian Church, of which he was a member; and the Yellow Springs Library Association, to benefit the library in which he had spent so many enjoyable hours.
Jim Mitchell, president of the Miami Deposit Bank, was named trustee of the Edwin Foos estate. In talking with community leaders about what Eddie had done for Yellow Springs, Jim developed the concept of an organization to which individuals could bequeath funds, either for a specific purpose or for the general good of the community. His experience as the Foos trustee gave Jim insight into the difficulties of establishing a trust for a specific organization. What if that organization ceases to exist?
“Jim saw the need for a community foundation and discussed it with me many times. When he died so suddenly I suggested that memorial contributions should go to the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, without a clue as to how such a vehicle would be constructed.”—Dorothy Mitchell Gish, Founder
Jim Mitchell died unexpectedly in January 1974, just as he had begun to develop support for a community foundation. His wife, Dorothy, saw an opportunity to put Jim’s ideas into action —even if she wasn’t sure exactly how it would work. She asked four other people to help figure it out: Perry Stewart, who succeeded Jim as president of Miami Deposit Bank; George Asakawa, president of Vernay Laboratories; Hardy Trolander, president of Yellow Springs Instrument Company; and Philip Aultman, Village of Yellow Springs Solicitor. Together, they formed the first Board of Trustees of the Yellow Springs Community Foundation.
“Jim had a vision and the optimism to believe that there was enough fondness within the community to respond to this concept.”—Hardy Trolander, Founder
Indeed there was. The Miami Deposit Bank made a $10,000 contribution in memory of Jim Mitchell, and his many friends provided memorial gifts of unrestricted funds. The foundation was started. None of the founders had any experience with foundations at that time, and so began a period of puzzling and pondering about how this vehicle should be run. The founders all provided their own philosophical contributions to the evolution of the Foundation:
“You see, I only gathered together some very busy but community-spirited individuals. They ‘did’ it.”—Dorothy Mitchell Gish
“I tried to emphasize that it should be a community foundation, that it shouldn’t have one or two angels, but should seek widespread support from the community, including small contributions, just so there was a greater sense of association with the foundation.”—Hardy Trolander
With some money in hand, it became clear very quickly that policies were needed regarding the focus of the Foundation. Would they solicit endowment funds, invest wisely, and use the interest for grants; or would they seek unrestricted gifts and give away the funds almost immediately? The consensus reached took into account the varying temperaments and persuasions of each of the founders.
“I was an advocate of gathering money. But I always felt that we were pretty balanced and that the unrestricted funds should be disbursed from the very beginning. In my mind, there was no point in holding on to the unrestricted funds that were contributed for disbursement.”—George Asakawa, Founder
“We didn’t all just go out and try to find endowment funds. We wanted to get unrestricted gifts that we could turn around the next day and make grants with. That could become an emphasis —just going out for endowment funds. We didn’t do it that way, but endowment funds came, too.”—Perry Stewart, Founder
“We realized that we were each taking on quite a long commitment…. What was needed was a vehicle to allow community participation in gradually identifying the kinds of problems we knew existed, and to provide financial assistance for these purposes.”—Hardy Trolander
With this agreement on the balance between endowed and unrestricted funds, the Yellow Springs Community Foundation made its first two grants in 1975: $1,000 each to Antioch College and the Yellow Springs Senior Citizens Center. Both grants bore the stamp of Jim Mitchell. A graduate of Antioch College, Jim had cared deeply about its future during the trying times of the 1973 strike. The grant to the stabilization fund was something the trustees felt Jim would have approved. He was an active participant in the incorporation of the Yellow Springs Senior Citizens and an advocate of the organization; the trustees made this grant in Jim’s memory.
While the trustees disbursed unrestricted funds, they also began to develop the endowed funds. George Asakawa describes how the Foundation established the first restricted endowment fund:
“I thought that the Yellow Springs Community Foundation would be an excellent vehicle for setting up funds for the maintenance of the Glen Helen Building. I was heading up Vernay Laboratories at that time. In 1972, the Vernay Foundation had made the contribution of the Glen Helen Building to Antioch College. We arranged to have the building built, rather than give the funds to the college, which was going through some trying times. We said we would build the building on their land in the Glen and turn it over to them after it was finished. That was agreeable to Jim Dixon, Antioch’s president.
“The Vernay Foundation also said that for at least five years they would help maintain the building. I was under no illusion that the college was going to do much about it since their funds were limited. Times were good for Vernay Labs, but I did not know what the future of the Vernay Foundation would be. I thought that the Community Foundation would be an excellent institution. Properly guided, it would probably have an indefinite period of time in the community. Individuals come and go, companies come and go, but I thought a community foundation would have some staying power.
“We set up an endowment, the interest from which would be for the support of the Glen Helen Building and its activities.”
The trustees gained experience in reviewing proposals and making grants, and certain policies and trends evolved. The Foundation provided scholarship funds for the Outdoor Education Center and the Glen Helen Association. The trustees believed that by supporting these activities, which provided interaction between Antioch and the larger community, the Foundation was strengthening Antioch’s image.
“We were always careful with the unrestricted money. We would say this to any organization that would come to seek a grant: we do not want you to become dependent on us. You cannot expect foundation support every year.”—Perry Stewart
So organizations learned that the Foundation was not a source for ongoing operating expenses, but rather for special projects, unless an endowment fund was established to support operating expenses.
The trustees also learned that the Foundation could support an organization–not only with funds, but also with credibility and assistance in selling its idea. Making grants in the form of matching funds encouraged organizations to sell their idea to community members. People were perhaps more willing to contribute after learning the Yellow Springs Community Foundation approved of the project and would match the contributions. The primary responsibility for communicating with the community about the project still rested with the organization’s members, but the job was easier because of the Foundation’s support. Such was certainly the case for the major building project launched by the Yellow Springs Community Children’s Center in 1981.
“I feel quite strongly that we ought to be responsive to what might be thought of in other locations as wild notions.”—Hardy Trolander
Several projects have been funded over the years that could be so described. Staiger Environmental Design wanted to plant a living display in the community garden area on Route 343. The Foundation paid $472.36 for the seeds and plants; the labor was donated. Barrington Design Group was provided funds to assist in the renovation of the wall murals throughout the village. Through the years, the trustees have received informal proposals of this nature, and the proponents often were surprised by the encouragement they received.
The Yellow Springs Community Foundation has played a major role in some of the most significant community projects. The Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization, and all donations are charitable contributions exempt from federal taxes. This tax-exempt status allowed the Foundation to play a critical role in fundraising for the Yellow Springs Friends Care Center.
In 1977, the Quakers began to raise money with the hope of building a nursing-care facility. The Foundation accepted contributions for the Center a few years before the Friends had their own organization in place. It assisted in the fundraising by protecting donations and growing them by wise investment, offering charitable contribution status to the project, and ensuring that if the project was not successful, the monies donated would still remain in the community. An equally important, yet intangible contribution was the credibility it provided for this project and all others it serves.
In 1984, the Foundation received a direct bequest under the will of Fressa Baker Inman. The Inman bequest was the forerunner of many future testamentary gifts. Indeed, several years after Jim Mitchell’s death and the formation of the Foundation, it was determined that the Yellow Springs Community Foundation could succeed as the trustee of the Edwin K. Foos Trust. It just fit so perfectly with what Jim had been thinking.
“I am joyful that the Yellow Springs Community Foundation has blossomed to serve Yellow Springs and feel most appreciative to the members who continue to promote the concept. I hope more Yellow Springs citizens will be motivated to make a provision in their will for even a small bequest to the Yellow Springs Community Foundation. Much can be accomplished with such pooled assets.”—Dorothy Mitchell Gish